acolytes, lectors and women

My question came up in discussion in another thread but as it was going off at a tangent from the original thread, the discussion was stopped. So, as I’d still like to know about this, my questions are…what is an acolyte as opposed to a server? I’m assuming that an acolyte is a kind of trainee priest, but I don’t want to assume - I’d like you to explain to me!
And how does a lector (in the strict meaning of the word) differ from a reader and why can women not be lectors?
I admit that I do not understand why women cannot be priests so this is probably going to be hard for me to understand, but I want to try.

Yes, Instituted Lector and Instituted Acolyte are steps on the way to the priesthood, followed by ordination as Deacon and finally as priest.

But Canon Law allows men who are not seeking to be ordained to the priesthood to be Instituted Lectors and Acolytes on a permanent basis.

Can. 230 §1. Lay men who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte.
Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.
§2. Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation. All lay persons can also perform the functions of commentator or cantor, or other functions, according to the norm of law.
§3. When the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking, lay persons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply certain of their duties, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside offer liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute Holy Communion, according to the prescripts of the law.

This law allows lay ‘persons’, interpreted to mean both men and women, to perform certain ministries on a temporary basis.

You may find this document interesting. Ministeria Quaedam is the document by which these two instituted ministries were changed from minor orders (you were a cleric once you’d become a Lector or an Acolyte) to instituted ministries. Although these instituted ministries were set up in 1972, few dioceses form and institute permanent Lectors and Acolytes so most people who meet lectors and acolytes are meeting men preparing to become either permanent or transitional (moving toward the priesthood) deacons.

English is the only language that makes a distinction between a reader and a lector and, even at that, that distinction is primarily found on these boards and not in the day to day life of parishes. The original English document called them readers as you can see.

The Church says that she has no possibility of ordaining women since Jesus Christ didn’t do so, and he was known to ignore societal norms & the culture of the day.

Thanks for that…I shall look at the link. In the meantime…what do you mean when you say Jesus didn’t ‘ordain’ women - how did he ‘ordain’ men? If he asked only his immediate apostles to carry on after him, did he positively exclude women…or has the modern church chosen to assume that he did this? I understand that in the very very early years of the church, there was no such fast rule discriminating against women? Am I wrong here? When was it first ‘writ in stone’?

I believe your alluding reference with regard towards Deaconesses in the early Church which practice in the early Church soon after it began, thereof, which ecclesiastical legislation was not long in repressing.

You may find this info of being an interest. Deaconesses

OK thanks, I read that. But I also found this:
Is it true that it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in the 16th century that women were officially banned from priesthood?

Yes, Jesus did say that, in multiple ways.

  1. he picked 12 men. Pretty clear sign there. if he wanted women involved, he could have done so.
  2. he gave his authority to the church. That church does say, in his name, that it is impossible for women to be ordained. However, it is not discrimination, just as it is not discrimination to say a man can not become a mother.

You may be thinking of deaconesses, but they were not ordained, and have much more in common with today’s religious sisters than deacons, dispute the name. It was first writ in stone when he picked the 12 men.

officially? you might be able to say yes, but to really answer this question, you must understand how the church works in these matters. Things are often believed, accepted, and enforced long before they are made official by a council. For example, Mary’s immaculate conception was not pronounced until the 1800s, but the church believed it all along.

In the same way, women have never been ordained to the priesthood, and those who have pretended to did not receive the sacrament, for it is meta-physically impossible for a woman to receive it.

A priest in his duties at times is a stand in for Christ. Christ in his human form was male. End of story in my book. Heck I don’t even like Protestant women ministers…just my way of thinking.

Having said that, I serve as a sacristian/head server, EMHC, and help with RCIA. I don’t know why some people on these boards have such a problem with women filling these roles, if that is their gift. My husbands gift is as a reader and hospitality. I have NO desire to be a priest…but I do want to help serve our priest, in whatever way I can. Sometimes that is as simple as cooking dinner for him when he has multiple pennance services. I truly don’t understand why others here put a restriction on serving roles for women that Holy Mother Church does not…but that is just me.

1)I’m not sure how feasible it would have been in that society, to have women as part of a core group of unmarried men followers? I don’t know enough about the female followers of Jesus - except that Mary Magdalen got her reputation smeared somewhere along the line. You see, I suspect hostility towards women was always around!
2)You say he gave his authority to the church…and then that the church says it’s impossible etc etc. How did he give his authority to the church when it didn’t exist? People eventually created ‘the church’ well after his death.
Thankyou for your politeness in answering - I’m trying to find out things from the horses mouth so to speak!

  1. Jesus was a bit of a problem child to society of his time. Had he wanted female priests, he was fully capable of going against social customs.
  2. No. Christ established His Church when he said to Peter, “You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church,” and when he made his Apostles bishops. It is true that the vocabulary of “Catholic Church” and so on was not used until later, but the thing itself existed already.

In my traditional parish women are allowed to lector, but not if they are wearing pants.

I wish dioceses would start to let laymen not pursuing the priesthood become instituted lectors and acolytes.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston does. My father-in-law and several other men were instituted as acolytes a few years ago.

Women cannot be priests for several reasons, but I think these are the two simplest. One, the priest is in the person of Christ, who was a man. The priest holds up the sacred host and says “this is my body.” A woman simply can’t do that–it’s biologically impossible. I cannot hold up a man’s body and say “this is my body.” Two, the priest, in the person of Christ, images Christ’s role as bridegroom–bridegroom of the Church, and bridegroom at the wedding feast of the lamb. A woman cannot be a bridegroom.

There are similar compelling reasons for why men cannot be mothers, regardless of how loving, kind, and nurturing they are.

This is not about competence, or compassion, or authority, or discrimination. The Church has always had strong women who were not afraid to say their piece, take charge, and do the right thing–and the popes listened. For example, Catherine of Siena was a 14th century laywoman, philosopher, and theologian. She went to Pope Gregory and convinced him to move the papacy back to Rome. You wouldn’t find that in a religion that discriminated against women. She is now revered as a Doctor of the Church.

Your comment about the Council of Trent? Women have never been priests in the Catholic Church. It’s just not possible, never has been and never will be. There is no “ban,” and no need for one. It’s just a physical, spiritual, and theological impossibility. By the way, most men can never be priests, either.

Question: would that mean that they would always be required to read at every Mass they are at if there is not another instituted lector/acolyte?

True, there are a few dioceses who have that program, but where I come from, where even Permanent Deacons are rare, Instituted Lectors and Acolytes are only seen when we have a candidate for the priesthood.

Yes. Well, I am not sure it can be said that they would be required to read, but they would have the right to read, presumably in cassock and surplice, before others.

(That reads differently on this side of the pond - haha!)

But the men wear dresses…

Sorry, couldn’t resist - no offence intended!!Seriously, what’s wrong with just being smart?

Hmmm, I think I disagree here…I believe he was behaving within the mores of his time. A woman consorting and travelling with a group of men would have been probably seen as prostitutes which would have served no good purpose to the women or the mission. Even today in the middle east, women have a very difficult time and can easily be exposed to violence - which would be seen as their fault.
You will be used to the argument that Jesus only chose Jews, not black men etc etc - but that doesn’t make the point any less valid. Jesus probably had a beard…Some muslims believe that men should not remove facial hair because Muhammad didn’t.
I thought the point that it was not discrimination - like men not being mothers - was a good one and might be valid, but with the weight of evidence for discrimination against women thru’ time - (I found that there were even discussions as to whether women had souls!!!) I think this is likely to be a relatively modern construct to make modern women feel better.

If you were to read the new testament you would see that Jesus did not really gave a hoot about the mores of the time. He was an excellent follower on the spirit of the Mosaic law, but he managed to annoy several priests of the time, he even got crucified for that.Do you really think that he was so concerned about the costumes of the time when he openly challenged the people that were planning to stone the adulteress? What about the lecture regarding the purpose of the sabbath? Jesus is God and he does not need to conform to the customs of any time, he only conforms to the divine will, divine will transcends time it is eternal.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit